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Behavioural Science: The Big Picture

Guy Champniss, PhD, discusses behavioural science and its importance within business.

Agency News

Guy Champniss, PhD
The Creative Engagement Group

GO!: Hi Guy, Could you please tell us a little about yourself, your experience and your role at The Creative Engagement Group.

GC: I’m head of Behavioural Science at The Creative Engagement Group. This translates as the team and I working across the business to apply an understanding of human behaviour to all briefs and ongoing work – all in the name of creating greater impact for clients.  I’m a social psychologist by training, and have spent time moving between consulting, agency and academia – and think the ideal role (for impact and interest) is one that spans all three of those areas. Previously, I headed-up behavioural science for a US West coast start-up, looking at energy and behaviour, and have also worked with one of the large marketing services groups. Alongside The Creative Engagement Group, I also hold a visiting professor post with IE Business School, where I deliver courses on applied behavioural science and innovation.

GO!: Tell us about how The Creative Engagement Group use behavioural science when working with clients?

GC: An understanding of the science is critical, but it’s not enough. Having the ability to read what the client wants and needs (i.e. consulting skills) is also a must. It’s no exaggeration to say every client is interested in the concept of behavioural science (every business is in the business of changing behaviour), so our task is to translate that interest into something structured, actionable and measurable. There are two key assets we’ve created to help with this. First, we map out with clients the value of developing a behavioural strategy – this involves developing behavioural insights, behavioural interventions and behavioural impact (we’re big on alliteration at TCEG!). Second, we’ve developed a behavioural framework, which captures the major drivers (and barriers) of all behaviours – and we use this to both shape the insights process and the intervention design process. Throughout the wider process, we work closely with creative, and the combination of creative and behavioural science (the magic and the logic) is a key differentiator for us, and allows to credibly promote our ability to create moments that inspire lasting change.

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GO!: In 2021, what do you think we will see more or less of in behavioural science in relation to employee engagement and experiential?

GC: I think behavioural science will become more and more important, for two reasons. First, clients are becoming increasingly demanding and exacting in what they want from agencies (rightly so) – behavioural science is incredibly useful here to more accurately define, more efficiently design and more accurately deliver on these ambitions (more alliteration!). Also– and at the risk of sounding like a cliché – COVID has changed everything for businesses and now almost every strategic decision is a behavioural one. How will our clients now buy, use or interact with us? How will our employees now work? COVID has upended every routine and habit both in the business and in the market, so assumptions and ‘safe beliefs’ have also gone. If you want to understand how behaviours are changing and how you need to change them, it stands to reason that behavioural scientists are critical from this point on.

GO!: What are some of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to behavioural science and how do you debunk these with your clients?

GC: There are a few that need to be consigned to the bin. The first is the ‘silver bullet’ expectation; that somehow behavioural science has the solution for everything. It’s part of the social sciences, so it’s inherently messy. But it is powerful. The other misconception is that everything needs to be a ‘nudge’. The concept of a nudge is a subtle change in the environment that can make us do something differently (such as putting chocolate by the check-out, or having a default option already selected on a website). Nudges are hugely popular, in large part because they’re easy to understand and implement. But I think that term is now a victim of its own success. We can certainly tinker with the choice architecture but the field has considerably more to offer-up.

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GO!: What brands or campaigns have you seen lately that have really captured your attention and why?

GC: One campaign that has grabbed my attention – but for all the wrong reasons – is the Government messaging regarding COVID restrictions. Consistency and clarity are typically not exciting words, but crucial in messaging like this. However, Sir Michael Caine and Elton John getting their jabs as part of the vaccine rollout caught my attention, purely for the salience of the message and credibility of the messenger – COVID is a leveller and this used this point to very good effect.

Although this doesn’t strictly answer the question (‘seen lately’) I always have to go back to Donate Life’s ‘Colman Sweeney. As well as being funny, it’s a masterclass in combining behavioural insights with creativity. I share it each year on the programmes I deliver at the business school, and it has the desired effect each and every time.

GO!: What are the benefits of applying behavioural science to your approach to B2B and what specific additional value/insight do you think this brings for clients?

GC: When it comes to behavioural science, distinguishing between B2B and B2C is slightly forced – they both involve humans making decisions and behaving (even procurement teams are human). But that said, the major benefits of behavioural science in B2B is to remind everyone of two major influences on behaviour: emotion and habit. Neither of these are typically talked about in B2B decisions and behaviour, yet both are incredibly important. And behavioural science can explain how both work, and how to switch-on or switch-off.

GO!: What are some of the key challenges brand owners are facing when it comes to creativity at the moment?

GC: All brand activity presently must be mindful of the pandemic and its effects. We’re in a position of vulnerability that we’ve not experienced in a century. This vulnerability (and associated reflection) is an opportunity for brands, in that they need to respect that vulnerability, help remove it where it’s right to do so, and demonstrate genuine support and expertise for the consumer/brand user. I don’t want to use the word authentic, but I will go for credible and meaningful. There’s also the fact that most brands have been talking for a long time now about having their users’ best interests at heart and that they’re there to create a safer, better world. Well, now’s the moment to step-up and demonstrate this commitment – so there’s a need for creative to be pragmatic right now. By using their creativity, brands are uniquely capable of helping us move forward.

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GO!: What importance do you put on building relationships with your brands in addition to delivering the work?

GC: A huge amount! Behavioural science supports the importance of this. We know from cognitive psychology that we build networks of associations between objects or events, and these play a major part in how we construct memory. So, if we build a strong relationship with the client team, this relationship strength (and benefits) will feed into how the client feels towards the work. Obviously, a good relationship won’t save terrible work, but good work will become better work, if it’s bolstered by the association the client also has with the team. Think of it as some form of halo effect.

GO!: How do you keep yourself and your team motivated when working remotely, and do you have any tips on dealing with the ‘new normal’.

GC: The major tip regarding remote working is to take lots of breaks and if possible turn-off your camera. Again, behavioural science offers up some support for this, in that it tells us the reason we’re all so tired at the end of the day is largely due to us having to work so hard by listening to every word everyone says on Zoom or Teams, because we cannot discern the gist through body language and other non-verbal cues. In reality, we infer so much of a conversation, rather than actually hearing it (through all these non-verbal cues), so when they’re all taken away from us ,we’re forced to dial-up what we think is some form of compensation – listening and focusing harder. Regardless of whether that does the job, it certainly wears us out. So, breaks and camera off as often as you can, in short. In terms of motivation, I think many of the issues with remote working come from the fact we have had little choice in recent months. As that hopefully changes, we can embrace the flexibility and efficiency of home working and balance this with some time in the office.

GO!: What advice would you give to your fellow creative agencies when it comes to the uncertainties of 2021?

GC: It’s a terrible cliché, but if we didn’t have uncertainty, we wouldn’t have opportunities. Like so many other processes and systems, COVID has condensed years of transition into 12 months and I think that’s true too for the relationship and expectations that clients have now. We all have certain habits and assumptions, and many of these have been shattered by the last 12 months. I don’t feel at all qualified to offer advice (to anyone), but I would say agencies have an incredible opportunity to step-up and help clients from this day on. For years, we’ve all encouraged clients to make changes and try new approaches. Today, those new approaches and that innovative thinking are needed more than ever. So, I think the future belongs to those agencies that can genuinely help and partner with their clients to prove their worth to their customers and consumers, stakeholders and employees. And I think that’s done by calling out the potential of combining behavioural science, strategy and creative. These together create genuinely 3-D ideas that can make a mark. It’s a different type of conversation companies need to have with the stakeholders – more nuanced, more diverse and more urgent. And it’s a different conversation companies in turn need to have with their agencies – do you have the science, strategy and creative to help us?

GO!: Thank you for these great insights in to behavioural science.

Guy Champniss, PhD is Head of Behavioural Science at The Creative Engagement Group. As GO! Network members they specialise in engagement such as scientific and brand engagement as well as live and virtual events to create lasting moments and change for brands. If you’d like to learn more about our agency network or get advice on specific challenges, get in touch here.

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